Esther Kuhn is a program consultant for World Renew living a global life. Kuhn is originally from Leiden, The Netherlands; she is currently finishing up a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Toronto. She lives with her daughter Djessou (originally from Mali) in Dakar, Senegal, where she works with local partner organizations on health and community development, particularly on the health concerns of out-of-school adolescent girls.
Esther spent a little time telling us what she’s been reading, watching, and Googling lately.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. Last night I finished reading The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared (Hyperion) by Jonas Jonasson. The book is funny and intelligently written, so I was sad to reach the last page. I generally enjoy funny historical novels; in this case, that is fake history.
Q. What books have informed your work?
A. As an anthropologist working in community development, much of my information comes from ethnographies. I found Your Pocket Is What Cures You (Rutgers University Press) by Ellen E. Foley a useful read. It shows how Senegalese are not able to access health care because of the nature of the health system, poverty, and power relations in the family. Elderly men control the household budget and so get to decide who goes to what doctor at what time.
World Renew in Senegal is doing much work on HIV/AIDS prevention. They had recently worked mostly with women because they are most vulnerable to exclusion. Now we are trying to incorporate elderly men more because they make most of the decisions regarding care.
For inspiration I’m reading Men and Development (Zed Books; edited by Andrea Cornwall, Jerker Edström, and Alan Greig) and Morality, Hope and Grief: Anthropologies of AIDS in Africa (Berghahn Books; edited by Hansjörg Dilger and Ute Luig).
Q. Are there any all-time favorite books on your bookshelf? Or anything that you really want to read but haven't gotten to yet?
A. I have read Maya (Orion Publishing) by Jostein Gaarder (a philosopher turned novelist) many times and keep discovering new angles and details. I also enjoyed many of Gaarder’s other books; this past Advent I read The Christmas Mystery (Orion Publishing) with my 10-year old daughter. We both loved it.
Q. What websites do you use regularly?
A. I try to stay informed through websites of newspapers and especially through Twitter. There I mostly follow foreign correspondents, World Renew, and other West Africa specialists. They provide me with background information, security warnings, and recommendations for articles. That’s also how I discovered Pacific Standard, a popular social science magazine with a good website (psmag.com).
Q. Do you see many movies or TV shows? If so, what are some favorites, and how do you most often watch one?
A. I watch TV or movies mostly on DVDs and online (YouTube). I love watching British detectives like “Inspector Lewis,”“Midsomer Murders,” and “Silent Witness”; not too gory, an interest in social relations—forensic science is not my thing—and within two hours they know who did it. I also still enjoy watching “Gilmore Girls” (ended in 2007), a witty series about a mother and daughter with fast-paced dialogue and references to both pop culture and world literature.